This is the conclusion drawn by a group of Canadian scientists following a major study conducted in Nunavut.
The fact that Inuit in Canada run a significantly higher risk for contracting tuberculosis than does the rest of the Canadian population has been known for a long time. In 2016, the occurrence of tuberculosis was 300 times higher amongst the Inuit than among the Canadian non-indigenous population.
Trudeau apologized in March
Canada’s authorities have promised to work to eradicate tuberculosis among Inuit in the Canadian north and as recently as in March, PM Justin Trudeau apologized to the Inuit for the treatment this groups has been subject to during the tuberculosis epidemics in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.
Poor housing standards spread disease
Improving housing standard may significantly improve the situation, the scientists argue.
The new study concludes that even minor and stepwise improvements of housing standards, as well as a reduction of the number of residents per room, may prove a significant contribution to improving the situation and preventing the spreading of TB in the population.
Scientists point out e.g. the fact that climatic conditions prevent someone from living outdoors, like some do in city areas further south in the country. Among the Inuit, this leads people to coach curving – living temporarily – with friends, acquaintances and/or relatives for shorter or longer periods of time.
This contributes to increased spreading of tuberculosis.
Half the houses should be upgraded
In the Nunavut capital Iqaluit, one of the communities in which the study was conducted, five percent of the population did not have permanent housing and were living temporarily in other people’s homes. The scientists conclude that half of the houses in Nunavut were too crowded or in dire need of an upgrade – or both – during the year the studies were conducted.
The group of scientists stresses in its Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health article that other social conditions also influence the rather high occurrence of TB amongst the Inuit in Canada and on Greenland, where former studies have established that the occurrence of tuberculosis is very high also among Greenland’s Inuit population.
Diet, smoking, alcohol and low-level education
Both this study as well as former studies point at poor diet, smoking of tobacco and marihuana, high use of alcohol, low education level and ethnic affiliation as key factors for the frequency of tuberculosis amongst Inuit.
Reference is for instance made to the fact that while 16 percent of the Canadian population over the age of 12 smoke on a daily basis, that number is a staggering 63 percent among Inuit in Nunavut.
Introduced by European people
The heightened occurrence of tuberculosis among ethnic Inuit is also explained by the fact that the indigenous people was not introduced to European people groups until the past century, and they have thus not had sufficient time to build up genetical resistance against the disease.
The researchers’ conclusion in the new study is nevertheless clear: Improving housing conditions for Inuit in Nunavut will contribute significantly to reducing the spreading of tuberculosis in the population.
The research article was first mentioned in Nunatsiaq News.
This article first appeared in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.